I REALLY LIKE YOUR GAME
I just started the game and am loving it. As a game, it is very fun. It is not fully balanced yet, but is an impressive achievement already and I enjoy it a lot nonetheless. More so, I feel it is a great educational tool that can illustrate much about how a modern government and state economy works. This is the reason that I appreciate all the apparent effort that has gone into constructing a non-biased representation of a modern country, with all of the pitfalls of conflicting political views and social theories. I have a major issue with one thing, though. The way drug policy works in the game has has some serious issues with regards to factual accuracy and internal consistency. I am sorry to see it broken, as it’s one of the core issues of modern penal policy and is economically greatly significant.
Allow me to illustrate what bothers me by illustrating my playing experience. I picked France, got social programs going on, BDP was good with a nice budget surplus and a 96% approval with “socialist” policies. I legalised all drugs, because fuck yeah, my country is liberal, we can do this, man. Freedom!, and all that jazz.
Immediately, crime went up and drug use skyrocketed. I got a “drug addiction” problem in my country. There was no way to allay this issue, aside from increasing law enforcement funding, which makes absolutely zero sense, since
- all drugs are now legal and no longer police business in any way;
- war on drugs and punitive policies increase drug use rates, as shown in numerous studies.
The game does not offer harm reduction policies that would open rehab centres, help addicts get jobs, lose the stigma and resocialize, the way progressive countries reduce addiction with a great measure of success. The recreational drugs tax helps, but not much. It does, however, make young people hate my government for it. They didn’t hate me in particular for banning drugs, so now young people, as a group, hate me more than they did when they were facing fines and jail sentences for possession. Conservative youngsters also mind the tax. It’s quite absurd. It should raise their cynicism, at most, but the net effect with liberal young voters should definitively be a strong positive for legalisation with taxation.
Due to the drug addiction situation, public health took a large dip. This was a consequence of legislation that enables people to buy drugs from known and accountable retailers who are subjected to health inspection scrutiny. Legalized drugs destroyed a perfect society! A cautionary tale to all would-be policy makers.
However, I received no foreign relations penalties that would undoubtedly follow for any country legalizing everything. It is against UN rules, after all, and should be subjected to some severe sanctions. This is stopping Portugal from outright legalization, after all. I got off really easy. But I suppose they must have not heard about it, since glorious France also did not receive any tourism benefit that would surely result from drug users flocking from more repressive countries.
The whole ordeal my simulated country is going through is diametrically opposite to what happens in reality when you decriminalise banned drugs. A harm reduction approach instead of user penalization policies proved to be a great success where used (Portugal, Switzerland, Czech Republic). Portuguese drug use rate halved in only 12 years! Contrast this with a steadily growing drug use rate in the USA, with mandatory minimum drug related sentences, and a cca. 15 billion dollar annual DEA budget.
IN-DEPTH ANALISYS OF POLICY EFFECTS
The way legalized drug policy shows it’s in-game effects is very odd: it directly influences stuff it really should only affect via affecting their causes. The chain of causation (in a legal drug use scenario, taking organized crime from the picture) is this:
Drug use -> Addiction -> Poverty -> Non-violent Crime -> Parental Disapproval
… Violent Crime
Clarity of design would dictate that drug policy should affect drug use only, and other variables change due to that change - this is the benefit of your excellent neural network game engine. However, legalizing drugs affects many parameters directly. It does not make sense for the following reasons:
The sheer act of legalizing drugs suddenly and sharply increases drug addiction. Addiction rates should be factored by the general drug use rate and modified by poverty, unemployment, education and the official stance on drugs (believe it or not, tough drug policies make it hard for addicts to quit, thus increasing their number). This arbitrary increase of addiction forces us to conclude that in the world of Democracy 3, legal drugs become more addictive than banned ones the day the bill is passed.
The parental backlash is unrealistic. Most parents are not against at least partial decriminalization. In fact, over half of US parents support the decriminalization of marijuana. The issue is not about being a parent, it is about being conservative vs. liberal. After all, most parents are very concerned about law enforcement interfering in what is, for them, a domestic issue. The stance that all parents are inherently against legalizing drugs is askew of the facts towards a conservative bias.
Legalisation of all drugs directly increases non-violent crime rate. The opposite should happen, since I just binned a large part of penal law. Using, buying and selling drugs is no longer a criminal activity, where before it consisted a large piece of the crime pie. The non-violent crime rate should significantly drop on this account alone. The opposite happens, though, which really makes me wonder: how can more crime possibly be a direct result of legalization? Keep in mind that this is not a result of more addiction at the low income bracket, because that is tracked separately. The policy itself directly increases criminality.
The only possible explanation is absurd, and is as follows. Illegal drug users in the world of Democracy 3 use drugs only because they are illegal. When you legalize drugs, this happens: after being deprived of their relatively harmless release valve for criminal activity (the game doesn’t monitor this under crime), they move on from drug use to petty theft, fraud and embezzling to satisfy their urge for lawbreaking. In turn, law-abiding citizens who would never do something illegal now take up drugs. They get addicted at an alarming rate because drugs are much more addictive when legalized.
HOW TO FIX IT
The chain of causation is rather silly. It also makes managing legalized drugs unrealistically difficult. The effects that the game simulates, namely the direct increases in drug use and addiction rates and criminality, are often used as rhetoric in the political arena against decriminalization or legalization. However, they have been consistently disproved with ample empirical evidence. Today, we can be fairly certain that legalization does not increase crime, or in fact drug use itself. The reasons we are still prohibiting are political, and the threats that would stem from it imaginary.
The game should represent this - a far greater conservative and backlash seems realistic, but parents should not be universally antagonized. If you implemented differing politcapital costs for pushing sliders further, gradual decriminalization over time would have to be required. Foreign relations should suffer due to UN/EU drug trade sanctions at a certain level. Tourism should get a boost. But most importantly, crime, addiction or drug use should not increase as a direct result of this policy. Legalization should open options for harm reduction policies, reducing addiction without police involvement.
I believe in the future of games as more than simple fun. Your game can be a shining example of accessible and fun education. This is why I feel strongly about the way the game represents drug policy and omits any sort of harm reduction approach as a policy alternative to war on drugs.